Key issue

A key very similar, if not identical, to this one

An art director friend and I have kept in touch over the years, usually in a nostalgic vein, but sometimes to vent. I’ll call him Hank.

Hank rang me up yesterday to say that a long-time client had asked him to turn in his key.

He was pissed.

“Your key to what?” I asked.

His key to the building, he said.


Hank has been helping an animal shelter build its brand for almost five years – all media, from concept to publication. The shelter pays him considerably less than the market value of his time, which is fine, he says. His motivation is the animals and the creative license. I get that.


I asked him why he needed a key to the building.

He mentioned the copier and the big table where he meets vendors and media reps.

I asked him if he didn’t have a big table at home. And a copier. He could meet the vendors at Starbucks, I said. Make them buy him coffee.

He said that I was missing the point.

He said that he’d come to think of the shelter as a second home and the shelter staff as his family.

“They’re locking me out of my own damn house,” he said.

I asked him why the sudden lockout. Had he stolen something? Done drugs on campus?

He ignored my questions, explaining that the new president of the shelter’s board has been micromanaging the shelter’s even newer director of operations.

Same old story.

Last year, the board decided that people who wanted to adopt shelter animals should fill out an invasive questionnaire and the result was a spike in the number of unadopted animals put down. The questionnaire was abandoned, but the damage had been done. Lots and lots of animals had died.


This year – and the reason for Hank’s call – a local landscaping contractor had offered the shelter a free beauty makeover. Trees, grading, footpaths, irrigation, lighting, the works. You’d have thought Hank had won the lottery.

Three months have passed since the offer was tendered. The board treasurer recently asked another landscaping firm to bid the project as a means of verifying the stated value of the first firm’s gift.

Offer withdrawn.


After queering the landscape deal, Hank told me, the board had turned its attention to security. There’d been no break-ins, no grafitti or trespassing, no problems whatsoever, but the board was on another tear. The board president had handed down a decision that, effective immediately, only full-time employees would be issued keys to the building.

I asked Hank if he was going to divorce the shelter and he said that the sex had never been very good. In other words, yes. Or probably. Then he let the air out of the conversation by changing the subject to something that neither of us was interested in talking about.